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Navigating by Sign

You are married. You live with your spouse, and you have no children, yet. You have been together for five years, the last year has been your first year of marriage. You both work, full-time, and have set your goals for the future. Pretty normal life. Now, imagine that your spouse can't hear. How does that change the equation? How do you deal with family? What do you do when you go to a restaurant? How does your communication change? What about children?

We met in college, I was 20, he was 21; six months separated us. We had the same teacher for sign language class (he was taking it for the easy "A"), but took the class at different times. At a class social, we met at the mall. I looked over at him wearing his baseball cap, and said to my friend, "I could marry him. Nah, I've thought that before and it hasn't worked out." Little did I know what was to come.

Three months later, we started dating, and a few weeks after that, we knew it was serious. But so many issues; some we knew, some we didn't. We sat down and discussed religion, money, college, family, children, and other "marriage" issues for weeks. It was the smartest thing we could have done, learning about each other in the beginning.

It's been strange finding a balance with our families and the outside world. In public, I am not his interpreter, and he does not wish me to be. It works well; he is independent and does not depend on me.

The balance with our families, though, has turned out quite the opposite. In his immediate family, they use sign language and can communicate with him. But outside their home, pen and paper is the mode of communication, unless I am around, and then I become interpreter. I don't necessarily like it, but it keeps the family close, and that is so important to us.

Communication is different, and often amusing to outsiders. You don't call your spouse's name, you pound on the floor. E-mail and instant messages are more convenient than phone communication. I can play my stereo and vacuum 24 hours a day, if I wanted to, and it wouldn't bother him. I can't turn lights on when he is sleeping, anywhere near him, or he will wake up. It is a different balance than I imagine most marriages are.

Children. We don't have the answers to that. How will we make sure they can communicate with both of us? How are we going to have to change our communication between ourselves and with others to ensure that we are a complete family and no one is left out? Those are the kinds of questions we will have to answer as we go along in life.

My marriage is normal to me, because it is our first, and we know nothing else It is others who see it as different. I think as long as we keep our communication open, talk, and compromise, we can go through our lives happy, in love, and together.





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